Historically, archaeology in the Philippines had its beginnings with foreign scholars who came to the country in search of the presence of early humans. The names of F. Jagor, J. Montano, P. Rey and Dean Worcester are just some of those who made separate explorations in various parts of the country, and returned to their own countries with artifacts, human remains, and other cultural materials recovered from the sites. These ranged from ceramic vessels classified as earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain, wooden coffins, metal implements, and shell and glass beads.
In the 1920s, Philippine archaeology was dominated by Americans with Henry Otley Beyer as the most famous one as far as Filipino students and teachers are concerned. He not only wrote about the archaeological sites that he found all over the country, but also included their classification into Paleolithic, Neolithic, Metal Age, and Porcelain Periods, depending on the artifacts recovered. A complete list can be found in his “Outline Review of Philippine Archaeology by Islands and Provinces” published by The Journal of Science (Vol. 77, Nos. 3-4). American anthropologist Carl E. Guthe, another pioneer of Philippine archaeology, explored the country for archaeological evidence. While best known for the collection of Chinese pottery, his archival collection at the Bentley Historical Library, as well as his reports and journals, reveal the resiliency of some pre-colonial cultural practices in the Philippines. The size of his collection was astounding – 31 cubic tons of archaeological materials from 524 sites. Scholars today refer to this as “the most important collection of Philippines archaeological materials”.
After the war, Philippine archaeology was spearheaded by Filipinos like Ricardo Galang and Generoso Maceda, even as Beyer was still around. This was followed by more Filipinos trained in anthropology in the United States of America. Upon their return, they continued doing research in Philippine prehistory. By the 1960s, another American anthropologist, Robert Fox, became famous not only working for the National Museum but also for spearheading the Tabon research project, where the earliest human remains were found. Fox worked at the National Museum until his early retirement in the 1970s. American anthropologist Wilhelm Solheim was also one who continued working on Philippine archaeology during the 1960s. He began his lifelong career as an archaeologist in 1949 at the National Museum of the Philippines, where he trained and worked under Henry Otley Beyer. He had worked on several archaeological sites within the country including Calatagan in Batangas, and Kalanay in Masbate. Solheim’s major involvement in publications and conferences helped develop the understanding of Philippines prehistory, including his dissertation entitled “The Philippines Iron Age”.
Archaeologists from the National Museum of the Philippines, such as Avelino Legaspi, Florante Henson, Wilfredo Ronquillo, and Eusebio Dizon became the new set of Filipino archaeologists who conducted extensive research throughout the 1970s until early 21st century. As some reached the mandatory age of retirement, a new batch of Filipino archaeologists who either studied and trained abroad or locally will continue the work at the archaeology division. Since its inception, the Archaeology Division has been involved in several notable works by the National Museum of the Philippines. Some of the older and more known ones which began since the 1970s include the excavation of the Butuan boats in Agusan, and of the shell midden sites in Cagayan. New Carbon-14 dates were obtained for the Butuan boats, while the shell middens in Cagayan produced the earliest evidences for water buffalo and rice remains. The excavations in Calatagan, Batangas resulted in the exposition of a large burial site yielding hundreds of earthenware pots and tradeware ceramics, while investigations in Santa Ana, Manila yielded tradeware ceramics and resulted in the discovery of the use of sacred space to subvert an earlier religious practice and belief. It also showed that the center of the earliest community was more inland than earlier thought. In 2014, the division entered collaborative research with French colleagues that led to the discovery in Kalinga of the most complete rhinoceros fossils with associated stone tools dated to 709,000 years old. In terms of underwater sites, when the division still included the underwater section, the most complete galleon research was undertaken resulting in the recovery of the San Diego galleon and its contents which comprised not only of personal belongings but some of the best porcelain pieces. Another underwater recovery was the cargo of the Pandanan nao at the southern tip of Palawan. The Division takes much pride that in 1993 Miguel Accion received the Civil Service Commission’s Dangal ng Bayan President Award. The Division also produced two scientists in 2002, Wilfredo Ronquillo and Eusebio Dizon, who occupied the Scientist II and III positions, respectively. The present roster of researchers of the division includes a Doctor of Philosophy (Anthropology), a Doctor of Science, and four with graduate (MA/MS) degrees in prehistory, archaeology, and anthropology.
Although the Archaeology Division is relatively young, its activities and studies have been done in the distant past by both local and foreign archaeologists, working hand-in-hand to produce evidences for the early presence of humans and their culture.